A federal judge ruled Friday that two Starbucks customers can sue the coffee chain and seek damages for allegedly cheating customers by underfilling lattes by about 25%.
Siera Strumlauf and Benjamin Robles filed the lawsuit in March, accusing Starbucks of violating the state’s consumer laws and of “negligent misrepresentation and fraud.”
The lawsuit claimed that contrary to the Starbucks menu, a tall was not 12 fluid ounces, a grande was not 16 fluid ounces, and a venti was not 20 fluid ounces.
Strumlauf and Robles, from California, claimed that the milk foam that made up the top layer of the latte should not be counted toward the total volume of the latte — in accordance, they said, with industry standards.
They also alleged that the etched “fill to” lines in the pitchers that Starbucks baristas filled with steamed milk — corresponding with the size of each customer’s order — were too low by several ounces.
They also said the recipe card used by Starbucks baristas instructed them to leave at least one-quarter inch of space below the rim of the serving cup.
"This is not a case where the alleged deception is simply implausible as a matter of law," U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson wrote in his ruling. "Therefore, at this stage, the Court finds it probable that a significant portion of the latte-consuming public could believe that a 'Grande' contains 16 ounces of fluid, measured without milk foam or in its cooled state."
Starbucks had argued that the word "latte" included the foam, and that the foam should be considered part of the latte in its foamy form and not after it dissipates. But Henderson said that the court accepted the customers' "factual allegation" that the food science community would not measure the milk foam in its foam state.
Henderson did dismiss three of the eight claims made against Starbucks. He also dismissed Strumlauf and Robles' claim for injunctive relief where they alleged they were "induced" to buy the lattes owing to Starbucks' misrepresentations and would not have bought them had they known the lattes were underfilled.
Dismissing that claim, Henderson said, "Now they know. There is no danger that they will be misled in the future."
The plaintiffs' attorneys did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment. A Starbucks spokesman said, "We were pleased with the court’s decision to limit the scope of the claims and believe that this lawsuit and the recently filed similar actions are without merit. All of our handcrafted beverages are made in accordance with our customers’ preferences. If a customer is not satisfied with their beverage preparation, we will gladly remake it. We will be prepared to defend our case in court."
Here's the judge's order.
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at email@example.com.
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